roses in the snow

March 2011
Notes from Threshold Places

Dear Friends,

Within two days of sending the last "Reflections: Winter Departures", I received many letters - with several individuals sharing their own shamanic experiences. These letters continue arriving from different ones of you. So rather than use this March Reflections for a different subject, I want to expand upon issues you have raised. Permission to quote and use photos has been given to me by the individuals mentioned in these Reflections. 

A majority of the letters expressed interest in appropriate shamanic Memorial or Re-membering Services, need for more support after someone had died, and how psychopomp can be done to assist the Soul in moving from Here to Elsewhere. There were other concerns addressed but these seemed the primary ones.

My grounding and impulse to write, during this time, has been based on my involvement with Cheryl and Pirkko and the death of beloved family members. To write using their experiences and their own words lends a reality to these Reflections. Your letters of sharing are another grounding reality for me so that I am not just coming from my own head but responding from both heart and mind. Thus I am going to continue with the format of 'hearing' directly from Pirkko, Cheryl, and those who have written me.

"There Are Wonderful Resources..."
I was quite moved by the many letters in which individuals shared their personal experiences by the bedside of someone dying. These writers wanted to share what spiritual resources enabled them to create a Circle of Sanctity around the individuals who were transitioning from Here to Elsewhere. Several letters asked me to underscore the importance of other individuals and Circles to find the resources in their area. Although I had spoken to this issue in February's Reflections, some of you thought I needed to urge members of the shamanic community to both use these resources AND to spread word of these resources to others. As Therese said: "There are wonderful resources out there, caring, beautiful people out there, for whom all we need is ask. By all means, get the word out!"

And another shared how important these resources were to her personally:

"I felt very lonely until I found this local group that helps support the spiritual focus when someone is dying. I heard about them from the cashier at the grocery store. I burst out crying when I was buying groceries. When I told her my brother was dying, she told me about this group in town. I had no other family around but they substituted for my family in a marvelous way. I called their office and told them I practiced shamanism, they said it didn't matter what religious tradition. They help in whatever spiritual way I asked for.... In his last days, my brother even thought it was our family when they would come into his room... Carol, we just need to know that there are all kinds of support groups in this country and most people need lots of support when someone they care about is dying. I could stay with my brother while he was dying but I just didn't have the strength to do right by him by myself."

Another person wrote about her own volunteer hospice work that includes singing with a group of women called The Threshold Choir. Although she lives in Napa, California Therese was eager for me to let our shamanic community know that these volunteer choirs exist all over the country. She wrote that these are groups who sing at the bedsides of those in the final stages of life. She also commented on the strong home funeral movement and suggested readers might wish to know more about this. I explored the website links she gave me and found both of them highly informative. I am now aware of resources that I can share with others and that might be of especial importance for the times when I am unable to respond directly to requests for such tending. I will put these links at the end of this letter.

Many of your letters referenced how singing played a singular and powerful role during these transitioning times. Four individuals described how specific songs took on meaning and power beyond the transitioning time of the person whom they were tending. Since these experiences were so similar, I found myself wondering if some ancient shamanic knowledge was seeping forth for our attention. For each of them, the 'song for the dying' first arose by the Threshold bedside of a close friend or family member. Several years later, as they were assisting other individuals transitioning, the same song surfaced so strongly so they had similar variations on the question:  'Is this a death song that can be sung for anyone who is dying?'

Songs by the Bedside - Songs from our Ancestors
Dreaming our Threshold Songs

Another individual had quite a different, yet similar, song experience. Joan wrote:

"When my father was dying, he asked me to sing for him. He was remembering some of the songs I sang as a child like 'Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down....'  But while I was rattling around him, a song and melody just came up from nowhere. I sang that song often and he would fall asleep. When his breathing got real slow and we knew he was now dying, I sang this song repeatedly. He just seemed so content and happy while I was singing it so I thought that this was his 'crossing over' song.

I never thought about that song again. I could not remember the melody or the words later. A year after he died I woke up singing that song and realized it was a week before the anniversary of his death. This happened every year but I would forget about it until his anniversary. On the sixth year after he died, I had a dream in which I was singing this song to someone else, not my father but it was a month before his anniversary. I just thought that I was remembering the anniversary of his death early that year. Two weeks later my Mother was suddenly ill, taken to the hospital. I flew down there and they told me she was dying. The next day I was washing her face and then this song-starting coming up and I sang it constantly while she was dying. It did not feel like my childhood songs I repeated, like here 'Here comes Peter Cottontail', but it did feel like an old song in me. I mean like older than Peter Cottontail maybe like before I was old enough to sing Peter Cottontail. 

Do other people talk about songs this way? Do you think there might be Ancestor Songs for dying. Could I be singing a song from my Ancestors and that is why I think it is older than when I was a child?"

Of course, I don't have the answer to Joan's questions and I did recommend she journey to her Ancestors and inquire about this. However, Joan's letter piqued my interest in traditioning and how 'ways' are passed through many generations. I was also reminded of the different 'Death Chants' of tribal groups throughout North America and I have read that many tribal cultures have songs and dances for every major passage in the human's journey on this Planet. Joan may be remembering one of her tribal songs or Ancestor Chants.

Yet I was also struck by the possible predictive value of her dream in which the song rises to prepare her for the dying and death of another 'immediate member of the family.' Or perhaps her Father was sending his Threshold Song, through Joan, to her Mother. I mention this because she wrote of her song surfacing on subsequent anniversaries of her Father's death.Yet for the first time, the song emerges in a dream where she
is singing bedside by someone (not her Father). A week later she is by the bedside of her Mother and this song 'suddenly comes up.' There are so many possibilities for meaning here and some will probably not be revealed until journey work is done.

Our Dreaming Worlds are wonderfully structured so as to blur the distinction between living and dying. And there are many stories and examples regarding the predictive or premonition-giving value in certain dreams. Joan's dream may hold this possibility too and the Song is the vehicle for alerting her. This predictive aspect AND Ancestral Songs could be combined here. She was being prepared for singing the Song again and the 'again' aspect indicates "known before this moment" which is one way to reference traditions.

To be sure, I am not interested in interpreting the dream of another person. What interests me is the powerful role our 'bedside' songs might have throughout our life and possibly through future generations. Sometimes we assume that our visions, our songs, and other shamanic events rise out of only the Present Time while actually we now may be opening ourselves to the re-emergence of specific activities (words & songs) held and done by our long, long ago Ancestors. We know this in the practice of certain shamanic methods (e.g. Soul Retrieval, Spirit Canoe) but I am speaking of activities that would seem, at a casual glance, to arrive from one person at a single moment in time. Yet surely nowhere is the Presence of Ancestors more plentiful than in our birthing and our dying. We are sent trailing clouds of glory and we ride trails of glory in our leaving. Singing is the vehicle that may carry us on trails of glory in the Time-Between.

I think it behooves us to pay attention to these unexpected events for often the unexpected carries significant messages or teachings. As shamanic practitioners we are required to walk along the edges of the Known & Unknown, to keep our antennae alert to what may be seeping from underground, from within Earth, and from the very air around us.
And I'm persuaded from my own years walking this path, and from what many of you have witnessed to in your lives, that song...and specific songs...may be surfacing to support us in our walk...support from our Ancestors. If nothing else, what is being required of us is to listen, speak, and sing from the Language of the Soul. Spiritual presence at the bedside of the dying requires song and language that evokes windows, doorways, Light, radiance...as well as Soul-full Silence.

Services of Re-membering
There are several challenges that can arise in the days and weeks beyond death...after we have sung our Threshold Song. The two most common issues seem to be concern for the movement of the Soul beyond its Earthly boundaries and how do we honor or remember the death of this specific person.

There is always the need, I think, to journey and learn, as best one can, if the Soul of the other has moved to Elsewhere or beyond our visible world.

Sometimes we may know a Soul needs help in moving; other times we may not know yet find it wise to check and see. This is another time when it can be helpful to call on others in our shamanic community. Some one else might be more able to do such Soul work because our own grief may make this too difficult for us to undertake. Yet the combination of assisting the Soul's movement, and of Re-membering the person in their fleshly form, are two essential activities for fully releasing our own attachments. Through these activities, we release our clinging onto the Soul for such clinging pulls backwards on the invisible threads that are the trails Soul makes in movement towards Elsewhere.

In my last Reflections, I wrote of the Memorial Service for Cheryl's Mom and the importance of this for both her immediate family and for those of us in her Shamanic Circle. Such a Re-membering Service recognizes no boundary of religious practice or definition of family. We are Circles within a larger Circle; the Circle Whole celebrating the grandeur and beauty of a single individual who left her footprints on our hearts and minds. We walk to the edge of the Known and supplicate All beyond to receive her as She goes forth to live There while we acknowledge how truly brief, yet full, seem the years lived Here.

There is also a way in which a Memorial or Re-membering Ceremony can be combined with psychopomp activity or assisting a Soul's movement Homeward. The guidance from her Spirits led Pirkko to combine these in a "Ceremony for Hilkka." Here in Pirkko's own words:

On a snowy February Sunday, eight of us gathered at sunset to celebrate my sister, Hilkka's life, and say prayers for her Soul's journey to the LIGHT. Hilkka passed away on January 11. 2011 in Tampa Brighton Gardens, among caring and compassionate doctor and nurses.
We had moved the coffee table to the center of the room. Hilkka's picture from 1958 was placed there and her remains in a small urn in front of this photo, taken at her graduation from St. Lukes Nursing School in Chicago.
Small candles were placed at the edges of the table, some surrounded by small crystals, as well as a tall white candle which will be used in the future, at the anniversary of her death.

There was an etched crystal egg representing her change into new life.

A small praying child, given to me by my mother was there, as well as a glass Madonna, holding an infant (The Great Loving Mother) and a figure I had made in altered state, that to me looks like Jesus, sitting down with his open arms welcoming this little child.

I took a beautiful white and pink rose and carefully placed the petals all around the objects.

Eight of us stood around the table, holding hands. I had asked Sarah to open the Circle with a prayer and sing two songs, appropriate to this Celebration.

She offered a prayer and sang two songs. Below is one of them:

I am standing on the seashore. A ship spreads her sails to the morning
breeze and starts for the ocean.
I stand watching her until she fades
on the horizon and someone at
my side says: "She is gone!"
"Gone where?" The loss of sight
is in me, not in her.
Just at the moment when someone
says "She is gone" there are others
who watch her coming.
Other voices take up the
glad shout: "Here she comes!"
And that is dying.

After our Celebration I sprinkled the rose petals in the snow, remembering Hilkka saying that she "missed snow" after moving to Florida all those many years ago.

I have only quoted a few lines from Pirkko's letters written about this Ceremony. In other writing, and in the Altar itself, it is clear that she was not only celebrating Hilkka's life but also sensing during this time whether or not Hilkka's Soul was moving Elsewhere and not somehow bound to the Earth-World. She wrote regarding the presence and activity of various Beings who came to conduct Hilkka to Elsewhere including the Great White Swan, Angels, Great Mother, White Horses, White Bear, and a host of Ancestors opening their arms to receive Hilkka's Soul.
Pirkko doesn't just come from another country of birth (Finland); she IS Finland walking in this country. This is never clearer to her friends than what she sees, hears, smells, and senses...and shares with her shamanic Circles...when she is walking the boundaries of the Worlds. Those boundaries might be the edges betwixt places of Light and Dark, Day and Night, Morning and Evening, Water and Land, Forest and Plain, Life and Death. Those of us privileged to walk with her know we are blessed to witness these wonderful Beings and Creatures that also seem to accompany and protect her in the thin-ice places of life. The altar photos here give hint of the Earthly and Ethereal Worlds that hold a child of Finland and Who receive her sister in the OtherWorld.

The photos here are of the Circle's Altar for Hilkka both Before and After the Ceremony. As my eyes moved through Pirkko's words, then the photos, and came to rest on the rose petals on the snow bank, I felt I was seeing the transition from Embodied & Fleshy Soul to the Lingering Fragrance from a life lived here on Earth. Somehow those rose petals on pristine snow spoke worlds to me of the transitions in our Soul's life as profound Changes in Form and Changes in Light. I'm so grateful Pirkko and her gathered Circle shared this Ceremony with all of us.

Walking Tomorrow with Wobbly Legs...
Let us Walk Tomorrow Together

Most Remembering or Memorial Services take place within days, or the next two weeks, following the death of someone. Then other days arrive with those unexpected moments when grief roils through one's whole being. No matter how good we feel about our tending; no matter that the dying of someone seemed so right in its completion, there is still grief, loss. Sometimes we are most surprised by grief when the dying seemed so utterly complete; that is, all the essential words spoken, feelings shared, songs sung, and the individual seemed to leave this world wearing a sense of peace. How then can there suddenly seem so much grief... and waves of grief...that threaten to overwhelm us in the minutiae of our days, our weeks, months, and even years.

In both this and the previous Reflections, I have focused on walking with these two sisters (Cheryl and Pirkko) as they walked through the ending times with one of their Beloved including their Services of Re-membering.

Later I was reminded of the great importance in being present in the "tomorrow" that follows these days of intensity. For one or two or three days after the Remembering Service there can arise a shocking sense of alone-ness, of a sudden vacuum in the universe, or a large hole once filled by the one who has left us. A most profound confusion can overwhelm us or we feel we have lost our footing. No longer do we hear Singers at our Back or that low whispering support we have come to trust --- now there is only Silence and the shuffling of our own seemingly clumsy feet. Rather than encountering 'last times' with another, our life is suddenly completely filled with "first times"...that is, the first time when the one who left is not present...felt in a moment, esp. when  I might otherwise be talking or engaged in activities that were signified by the Presence of the One no longer Here...there are so many, many, many  "first times."

One day after a Drum Circle, Cheryl said to me: 
"You remember Carol how I called you every day while Mom was dying?"
"Yes, I do" I said.
"Well, I may still need some of that support...I may need to call you some more again."
My heart just lurched against my chest with Cheryl's words. Had I somehow conveyed I was only there for her during those days and not for as long as needed? Or was this Cheryl's way of discovering her own needs for support that perhaps she had not expected? As she continued to share, I realized she was surprised by how many feelings were roiling around in her. Regardless of the reasons, it reminded me of how important it is to support individuals long after the death of some loved one. We are called to serve both the dead and the living; called to support both the dying and the living.

And those of us who have walked these dying times before know how unexpectedly can Grief come visiting again and again and again...sometimes seemingly forever. I simply share this to remind all of us...if we need reminding...to stay in touch with those whom we know have experienced such loss; reminding us perhaps to do a mental check list and note if someone we know or someone in our Circle experienced the death of someone during this last year or two. If so, have we checked in with that person, or persons, to see how they are doing now - or simply checked in with them. To find some way of letting them know I am walking today with you and tomorrow too----meaning the day after your world has been fundamentally rearranged and you seek to both grieve this great change as well as to create a now different world.

This can be especially important for individuals who are charged with making memorial service arrangements and/or activities connected with managing in the official world of Wills, Estates, and Distribution of Objects accumulated during the lifetime of the person who died.

Both Cheryl and Pirkko were involved in arrangements for Remembering Ceremonies and in deciding what to do with the personal objects of a Mother or a Sister.  Since these things usually have to be done fairly soon, tending to them can mean a delay of one's own grieving; it can mean having to pay attention to the expectations of others. It can mean having to interpret the desires of the loved one who died before one has had time to truly say goodbye.

To complicate further, one might have to switch to official legal language before the poetry of deep feelings is allowed to space within. During such times, we truly can be Singers at the Backs of one another--- helping to create a larger sound circle which hums and vibrates for the other. This is a Circle of Sound into which our friend(s) can dip as needed, can rest when possible, and can know that the sound of their own Soul's grieving will have space and place when they can lament.  We shall be Singers at Their Backs as they rebuild a world that is now no longer the same.

We say that as long as one is 'remembered' or in our memories, they are not forgotten. By doing this holding for another, we are doing this re-membering of them, this holding of their own memory of the Now so that when they have time to turn once more, fully unto themselves, they have not forgotten themselves...nor are they forgotten...nor is their grief forgotten.
The world may step in and require us to set aside our own Soul and heart needs for some space of time, but setting these aside does not mean we forget ourselves. As soon as we are ready, we hear the Singers at our Back and we immediately re-member ourselves. I truly believe this is one way that individuals and Circles can support one another. I invite all of us to participate in this 'holding of and on behalf' of our grieving friends; and to ask for such holding when we so need.

Questions and Gifts from the Threshold...
Not surprisingly my journeys with Cheryl and Pirkko have occasioned much soul searching for me. At one point, I remember revisiting the several deaths within my family. Sometimes I thought "what a different experience might that have been had I been more informed about possible help for both me and my family member dying".  At other times I'd be grateful that I was so ignorant of 'official or hospital rules,' that I simply followed the inclinations of my heart when making some critical care decisions. By the time my middle brother died, only me and my older brother were still living...from a family of seven. From that perspective, and including the death of very close friends, I have had considerable experience with saying 'Good by.'

This time, however, I was tending and listening with different ears, different reasons of my heart, and quite aware that I was participating on behalf of my larger family - namely, my shamanic community.

There are some complicated yet very important shamanic issues that have surfaced since Cheryl's first call from Donner's Pass...and walking with Pirkko prompted other explorations. It would be irresponsible of me not to address some of these with you and/or with my larger community. Far as I'm concerned, such sharing and mutual explorations are what mark the difference between practicing shamanism as an individual and practicing shamanism within community.  There is a place and time for both. We have allocated most of our space and time, however, to the individualized practice. Most of us see the Wheel of Change is turning with its consequent requirement to live and practice within community. The greater World is fiercely focused, both recently and our coming tomorrows, on HOW to live as community. If our shamanic walk is to be of any consequence, or offer any meaningful service, then we must learn the Practice of-and-within Shamanic Community.

I have purposefully limited this issue of Reflections to what Cheryl and Pirkko have offered us through their own walking and times by the bedside, living at the Threshold, Re-membering one's friends and beloved family. They are members of our community sharing with us both as witnesses and teachers. Their Walking during these times, and the response of others to them, is an example of how individuals can respond as Community. Yet it is not only Cheryl, it is not only Pirkko, it is not just Cheryl's Mom or Pirkko's Sister. Each and all of us are called to participate, as active community members, in the living, the dying, the grieving, the joy and the education of our hearts, our minds, and the enlightenment of our Souls -  Enlightenment for both self and other and the Whole.

The Soul loves specificity so I invite us to give some meditative time to explore:

**did any specific Threshold issues surface for you in reading these last two issues of Reflections; if so, might this be the time to address them?

**have we shared with others what we wish them to know of our desires for our individual 'threshold time' (Do I want Singers? Do I wish to be buried? Do I wish cremation?)...

**have we let our friends know, our shamanic community know, "I wish to offer support and tend the dying and crossing over of others.." As Therese said, there is so much need for 'Threshold bedside' support. This is an area many of us have focused on in our shamanic training. Are we using the gifts of this education?

**have there been conversations in our immediate families ( if appropriate) on such issues...have there been such conversations and journeys on these issues in our shamanic circles? If not, might you initiate these? If not you, who will?

**if we have pets, have we given thought to their welfare should they outlive us? This is a general issue of: Have I given thought to the other Beings, in addition to the humans, who thrive through my tending...thought as to their care when I die?

Anyone reading these Reflections is of the age when such inquiries can be made. They are not sad, grim, or unhappy-making topics. I assume one reads because there is something of interest here. I have shared major events in the lives of some within our shamanic community. Surely each major event on our path offers some new teachings. Each encounter at the Edges, invites us to pay attention to how we are living when not on the Edge. Do we want to arrive to these times of transition having made use of these instructions for our Soul or shall we arrive empty-headed as though for the first time we had even heard of Death?

Would any pregnant woman not seek to educate herself, at least somewhat, about how birthing occurs or how an infant enters the world? Shall we rely only on our instincts and not receive the lessons with which we are presented or the education of our instincts that Spirit provides us? In a way, our death is our last time to be pregnant...it is the last birth we shall be able to offer ourselves, and our extended family, on this Earth and in this Realm. I am reminded of the I Ching hexagram of Youthful Folly in which the Book informs us "you ask once and I replied; you ask twice and I replied; to ask a third time is Youthful Folly" and in Youthful Folly one simply falls over the cliff's edge.

We each have responsibility to give some thought and planning to such matters. If we do not, in effect, we leave decisions to the surviving, and that means we vacate a responsibility that's really ours to shoulder. And most especially, we are living as though we are not in community.

The stories I have shared and to which I have witnessed are ways in which Spirit replies to the questions raised when we are at the bedside with someone who is dying. They are questions raised when we even hear of someone else's dying and there's a nudging we experience to inform ourselves more of our own dying. And nearly always one's dying affects others in the family or the community.
In closing, some shamanic issues surfaced for me during this time that are not necessarily related to the Storylines from Cheryl and Pirkko. They are issues that have as much to do with daily living as with dying. I will focus on these with you in my April Reflections.

I offer profound gratitude to Cheryl and Pirkko for sharing with all of us. They teach us how much we can learn and love when we share our journeys with one another. I thank those of you who wrote me for your letters continue to educate me and I appreciate your willingness to share them with the community.
    May each of us know the joy in walking with others and experience the loving power of shamanic community.
    Love and blessings,
    Carol Proudfoot Edgar

Here are the website links sent to me by Therese
www.thresholdchoir.org - this site both lists and contains information about Threshold Choirs or Singers around the country.
www.nancyjewelpoer.com/nancyjewelpoer/HOME.html - this site is focused on the Home Funeral Movement and has exceptional material.
If you have time, I recommend watching the movie at this site:
"The most excellent dying of Theodore Jack Heckleman


Please make note that my email address has changed. I no longer receive at my old AOL address
My new address is:

We now have audio versions of these newsletters, read by Susan Gilliland, available on the Shamanic Circles web site. Shamanic Circles web site.

Note regarding future workshops:
My 2011 Calendar of Workshops will be posted in early March.

If you wish more information or to be on a workshop mailing list, please contact the coordinator Pirkko Miller at pirkko@embarqmail.com. Unless otherwise specified, Pirkko coordinates all my workshops. Registration is also available at my website: www.shamanicvisions.com

In addition to the calendar, this website includes other shamanic writings and resources.

More Information about Shamanic Circles

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